Chris Folkerts revolutionized the concentrate market by developing a line of personal, portable vaporizers that introduced the world to digitized cannabis consumption.
His company, Grenco Science, launched their flagship product, the G Pen, in 2012.
Since then, Grenco Science has become an industry byword for quality and innovation. Their family of products has now been extended to include the Gio, Pro, Elite, and the recently debuted Nova.
We spoke with Folkerts about the company’s culture, building a lifestyle-tech brand, and being an industry innovator.
From the Analog into the Digital Era
Chris Folkerts has advocated for cannabis for more than 24 years. The Belleville, Illinois native was first introduced to the plant when he was 13 years old.
Cannabis appealed to him right away. “It was something that spoke to me. When I started to use it, it was understood as a drug, then as a medicine,” he explained, before eventually using it recreationally.
Folkerts attributes the medical cannabis movement for breaking the stigma and challenging stereotypes. But, it’s safe to say that he also played an important part in revolutionizing the industry too — by blending cutting edge technology with cannabis consumption he brought it into the modern era.
Folkerts began his career as a concert promoter, touring the country and managed hip-hop and rock bands. His career in the music industry brought him to California in 2009.
Three years later, he launched G Pen, becoming one of the first vaporizer companies to develop a vape for cannabis concentrates.
The inspiration for the device came from e-cigarettes, Folkerts explained.
The first e-cig he saw, he recalls, had cotton as a wick. “While it worked, it wasn’t effective in getting users high,” Folkerts said. He also noticed that most devices, at the time, did not come with refills. That was his “aha!” moment.
Folkerts wanted to create the vape pen because he “saw the power behind it and converted it from analog to digital, more or less.”
From there he developed the G Pen, which hit the California market in 2012. In doing so, the brand became synonymous for vape pens, much like Kleenex became a generic term for tissues. Some even credit the brand for making vape pens famous.
An Instrument for Acceptance
The company was undoubtedly instrumental in taking the stigma about off concentrates. Vapes in general, Folkerts asserts, help take away the stigma of smoking cannabis because there’s a big difference between heat combustion and lighting something with a lighter.
The G Pen introduced new technology and a new way of consuming cannabis. Grenco Science is recognized as a pioneer of the Californian concentrate market for that reason.
Having a device that’s portable, and discreet all in one system has, Folkerts said, “been very instrumental in building acceptance.”
The G Pen’s sleek designs and ease of use make it a popular choice among consumers.
“It’s functional and ergonomic,” he said, “it feels good in the hand.”
G Pen products are recognized for their superior form and function. However, the brand isn’t just focused on product innovation; but also, making vaping a more meaningful experience.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a lifestyle-tech brand,” Folkerts said.
To achieve this, Folkerts pulls on his experience in the music industry to build partnerships with musicians, athletes, and artists. G Pen brand ambassadors include Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, and Berner.
The company also established “the Charity Series; a collection of products tied to nonprofit organizations wherein a portion of net proceeds are donated with each purchase; and the Artist Series, an installment of collaborations with industry-leading artists and brand ambassadors.”
“We’ve done everything from a collaboration with Burton Snowboards, and the artist Phil Frost, [and having a] Coachella party,” he added, which was attended by School Boy Q, Action Bronson, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan.
“It’s all about creating that [interactive] component,” he added.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The music and cannabis industries have plenty of parallels, Folkerts said. Much like putting on a concert or event, “There’s an army of people that make things happen […].”
“It’s passion, people’s livelihoods, [and it’s about the] work ethic,” he added.
The staff — most of which have been with him since founding the company seven years ago — are all “willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything that’s needed of them. There’s no ‘that’s not my job attitude’.”
He credits his team and company culture for the success of Grenco Science. His leadership style very much reflects that; “without the team, its just my ideas.”
With that success has also come challenges. Some of those hiccups include issues scaling to size, ordering, misprints, and failed partnerships, Folkerts described — but he and the Grenco Science team see those as learning opportunities.
“Having a company that’s growing too fast, and a team that’s not experienced in scaling [….] you can find yourself behind a lightning bolt,” he explained. What matters is adaptability, and the willingness to learn, he added.
“We are fortunate to surround ourselves with a team that took us from to being a label to becoming a brand.”
The company remains committed to developing cutting edge technology, said Folkerts, alluding to the introduction of new technology later this year.
Cameron Forni: How to Build a Billion-Dollar Cannabis Empire
Cameron Forni knows a thing or two about building a billion dollar cannabis company. The CEO of Cura and founder of Select Oil has always been an innovative thinker. In 2015, he identified and developed the need for an organic cotton wick vape pen, providing a healthier consumption method. From there, he set his mission to be the leading provider of cannabis oil to both consumers and premium brands in legal markets, both in the U.S. and internationally.
We spoke to Forni about his entrepreneurial journey, Cura’s record-breaking success in the cannabis industry, and his predictions for the future of cannabis.
Cannabis Aficionado: Tell us a little bit about your journey through entrepreneurship and how you ended up in the cannabis world.
Cameron Forni: I’ve been an entrepreneur my entire life and have had many incredible mentors. Entrepreneurship was in my blood; I did everything from selling flowers on the side of the street in Milwaukie, Oregon as young as four-years-old, to managing a car detailing business in high school, to building an event company in college. I have always been interested in business and entrepreneurship.
Right out of college, my goal was to create jobs, not to take a job. I started my journey in entrepreneurship when I co-founded TextNoMore, an app designed to reward drivers avoiding texting while driving. From there, I co-founded TryEco LLC, which holds a patent on a starch-based, biodegradable super-absorbent polymer used primarily in agricultural applications. I always had a focus on building businesses that helped people live better lives and achieve more and that’s what led me to cannabis.
With both a medical card and a caregiver card on hand, I started looking at what the future of cannabis would be. I knew that combustion wouldn’t be a long-term option for most cannabis consumers, so I started focusing on safety and vaporization. I started taking apart every vaporizer pen in the market and learned that silica fiberglass was commonly found in most cartridges, so I built a new cartridge, innovated with organic cotton and unique absorption systems.
That’s when Select was born. It’s been quite the journey!
Over the last 18 months, Cura has seen record-breaking success in the industry. You became the first cannabis company to appear in INC. magazine’s annual top 50 companies in 2018. Now, your billion-dollar deal with Curaleaf Holdings is said to be the largest ever among American companies. How does it feel to be behind one of the industry’s golden unicorns?
Wow, what an incredibly cool question to hear. It’s often difficult for me to pause and reflect, so thank you! I’m thankful for the team who has helped build this incredible company with me every day. When you are relentlessly working and traveling (on pace for 300 flights this year alone) because you are so obsessed about something, it’s hard to turn it off. It’s been more than four years of hard work, but in cannabis years, they say that for every one year you multiply by seven because it’s moving so fast!
Sometimes it’s really hard to step back and look at what the work has become. People think that achieving milestones like the Inc. 500 placement or our billion-dollar acquisition must be all we think about, but it’s not always straight forward. We face federal regulatory approval, state licensing approval, audits and regulatory change in each state so often that it’s difficult to master balancing it all. That’s why you need an incredible team.
Cura is widely respected in the industry for innovative extraction techniques and its focus on setting high standards for quality products. How has it evolved from its beginnings into the industry leader it is today?
First of all, it’s always been about building the best team possible and taking care of people along the way.
Our evolution over a short period of time is due to our constant focus on innovation, setting best practices and our never-ending pursuit of better.
Senate Bill 582 will allow Oregon to import and export cannabis products across state lines — but only if the federal government changes its policies. What are your thoughts on this?
The main hurdle is the federal Controlled Substances Act which bans interstate shipments of cannabis. That would have to change. Otherwise, the states that attempt to implement this are subject to crackdown by the Federal Government. There is much work to be done here before this becomes a reality.
Which international markets do you think are really leading the charge right now?
The industry is in the first of a nine-inning ball game. With now 11 states with adult use policies, 33 states with medical cannabis laws and 62 percent of Americans in favor of legalizing cannabis (according to PEW), I expect the industry to have massive growth and significant consolidation.
Canada is the leader from the standpoint of the financial market because it came in early, established policies and amassed significant capital to deploy into international markets. However, the leaders in medical cannabis and cannabis research is still Israel who has been making significant investments into research and development in cannabis science.
Will vape pens replace flower? Why or why not?
There’s a nostalgia and ritual to consuming joints and using flower. With baby boomers and longtime cannabis users that will undoubtedly continue. However, U.S. consumer preferences always gear more towards convenience. The closer we can create the experience of vaporizing unique cannabis terpene and oil formulations, the closer we can get to replicating the experience to that of flower. Long term you will see vaporization pass combustion of flower and in the end, it’s safer.
What new challenges will the industry face going forward?
Banking, taxation, legislation and real estate have always been the major challenges facing cannabis operators. We are the most heavily taxed industries in the world. We are also one of the most heavily tracked — meaning track and traced — industries in the world. In every legal state we use RFID chips on each product case that goes to stores in order to track the product from seed to sale.
Last but not least, cannabis companies achieving profitability is becoming critical to survival in this space. With large gluts of products in states like Oregon, it makes it very hard to run a profitable business under incredibly high taxation.
What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?
I expect unique terpene profiles and oil formulations to become more popular. Additionally, innovative, discreet and more elevated devices will be the main drivers for 2019.
What demographic do you see having the most growth?
We’re seeing more and more young professionals 25-35 come on board to cannabis at a quick rate. Millennials are seeking cannabis options that suit their own personal needs and they’re becoming more willing to share their interest in cannabis publicly.
What are your one year, five year, and 10-year predictions for the cannabis industry?
1 year: More states will continue to come on board and legalize adult-use cannabis. With that, we’ll also see an uptick in normalization around the country.
5 year: Ideally, the STATES Act will pass, providing more people with access to cannabis, jobs and business opportunities around the country.
10 year: Cannabis is treated by society and regulated by the government like alcohol and will become mainstream.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
The biggest piece of advice I’d offer to new cannabis entrepreneurs would be to surround yourself with people who fill in your weaknesses early on.
It’s important to be agile and never get stuck to a plan. The plan is always changing because the regulatory environment is always changing. You can’t work in this industry without being agile and nimble with decision-making.
Finally, what are the three things people don’t know about being a cannabis entrepreneur?
- Time commitment: If you want to be successful in this business be prepared to give up your social life. I find myself traveling 48 weeks a year. Having a very understanding partner is critical as well!
- The regulatory environment WILL shift beneath your feet. Expect to order one million boxes of packaging and 2 weeks later that package is obsolete in one of the states you operate in because they need a new sticker
- Cost and funding: Traditional capital is not readily available to the cannabis entrepreneur, you need to make sure your business can survive and thrive. It’s very expensive to handle all the taxes and fees that accompany a cannabis business. For example, in California we face 44% supply chain tax, 12% excise tax, 11% sales tax, 5% gross revenue tax, 35% 280E tax, along with licensing fees and higher-than-normal rates for real estate… just because we’re a cannabis company.
Kyra Reed: Women, Weed and the Web
Multi-entrepreneur Kyra Reed is creating platforms for women to succeed in the cannabis industry by harnessing the power of social media.
Kyra Reed is paving a path for women in the cannabis industry — and she’s laying it in concrete.
The multi-entrepreneur is the force behind the Facebook group Women Empowered in Cannabis (WEiC), formerly Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis. She is also co-founder of Kadin Enterprises, Markyr Digital, and Lady Jane Society, an event production company focused on bringing female consumers and business owners together.
We spoke exclusively with Reed about creating platforms for women to succeed by harnessing the power of social media.
A Pre-Pot Pioneer
Kyra Reed is a community builder. The foremother of social media specializes in building meaningful relationships between entrepreneurs and their audiences.
She made her name in the digital marketing world in the early 2000s when she joined forces with Nic Adler to revitalize the iconic Roxy Theatre and Sunset Strip in Downtown Los Angeles.
Adler was the owner of the Roxy, and the son of its original founder, Lou Adler, producer of acts including Cheech and Chong, and The Mamas and The Papas.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Alder explained how Reed’s digital strategy saved the Hollywood landmark, and in turn, other icons along the strip including the Viper Room, the House of Blues, and the Comedy Club.
“The Roxy was the first to come online and they did one simple act that changed the history of entertainment venues on the Sunset Strip,” reports TechCrunch. “They started being social online with their neighbors.”
The venue was among the first 19,000 accounts on Twitter. By 2012, The Roxy grew to host the largest and most robust Facebook and Twitter followings for music venues on social media. As a result Entrepreneur Magazine named Reed a “Social Media Pioneer.”
Now, she lends her renowned skillset to clients the emerging cannabis industry.
The Wonderful World of Women and Weed
In 2016, Reed began working with clients in the cannabis industry, a natural step for the Northern California native.
“I grew up with cannabis being normal,” she added, “I saw it as medicine. It was the rest of society that had the problem.”
Reed previously worked with clients in the industry, but it was not until voters were likely to approve Proposition 64 — and business started to occur — that she made her official move into cannabis.
In 2017 Reed co-founded Kadin Enterprises, the first digital training company specifically for women for the cannabis community.
This May, she launched Kadin’s List, a directory for women in the cannabis industry. A subsidiary of Kadin Enterprises, the site hosts professionals from various fields including real estate, business, journalism, education, and more.
When Kadin first launched, Reed said she believed women in cannabis — similar to other industries — were becoming entrepreneurs to get rich and lead a glamorous life. She quickly realized that was not the case.
So she re-assessed her own understanding of what women in cannabis actually needed to achieve their goals, “legitimizing the plant and making it accessible for patients while sustaining themselves and their families,” she said.
For nearly a year, Reed focused on listening and observing the women in her Facebook community, WEiC, which she created in 2017.
There, members tap into previously unrealized sources of data: each other.
With over 5,400 members, WEiC provides a platform for women to vent their frustrations, ask for help, and connect with other women in cannabis around the world.
What Reed learned was that women and men work differently, and they value different things in business.
Females, however, are still holding themselves to the same standards as men, despite inherent differences.
“We need to reframe the business models we currently use to include the benefits women bring to the workforce,” she said. “Men built the model to win the model.” Instead of trying to fit themselves into that model, “women need to re-define the value they bring to business and build new models that allow them to succeed.”
For example, Reed explained, women are taught that sharing challenges, resources or the need for help is a weakness in business.
“Females really do have an opportunity to redefine how we work via the cannabis industry. Sharing of resources, information, and problem-solving is a big part of making real changes to our system,” Reed said. “When we share information, we empower ourselves to make better and more confident choices.
“Women by nature are the caregivers, the relationship maintainers, multi-taskers, emotionally intelligent, and are more adept at seeing the bigger picture; those are massive assets to a company,” Reed explained. “We need to recognize that women’s talents make companies better. The statistics show it, women (and diversity in general) are vital to our system.
“It is up to us to create the change we want to see for ourselves, our daughters and all the girls out there that deserve better,” said Reed. “All women need is resources and opportunity, and we will do the rest.”
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WEiC, formerly known as Women Entrepreneurs in Cannabis, is now WOMEN EMPOWERED IN CANNABIS. Our industry is growing rapidly and we’ve changed our name to be more inclusive to Women Working in Cannabis. If you are a member, please note our new name and Group URL. If you are a women in cannabis and haven’t joined us yet, you can find us by clicking the link in our bio! . . . #cannabis #womenincannabis #women #bettertogether #mondaymotivation #instadaily #instagood #empowered
This is, in part, why Kadin Enterprises (Kadin’s List/Kadin Academy) focuses on access, education, and creating a network of professional allies. The company also emphasizes affordability; membership is just $30 per month.
Named after the Turkish word for “women” Kadin aims to move the cannabis industry from male dominated to female inclusive. To meet this goal, members are given the ability to connect, share resources, webinars, events, job listings, and promote themselves and their businesses in a space that fosters honesty and support.
Through observing her community, Reed learned something she did not expect.
“I’ve noticed in the cannabis industry that the men I speak with tend to paint the industry through rose-colored glasses,” she explained. “Everything is great and find and we’re winning like crazy!
“I’ve also found that if you want to know what’s really going on, ask a woman. Women are willing to talk about the failures, the challenges, and the hard truth about life inside the industry, what’s really going on,” she noted.
In WEiC, “members are honest about what they need help with, and they straight up ask for it.’”
Most inquiries, when thrown into the WEiC universe, will be answered. Sometimes within minutes.
“It isn’t uncommon to see women sharing their contacts, processes or experiences in an effort to help other women move faster, smarter and make better business decisions,” said Reed.
WEiC recently introduced two new, separate Facebook groups: WEiC CBD, and WEiC Supply Chain. WEiC CBD is intended for women who work in CBD or hemp, while WEiC Supply Chain is a space for women in cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail.
Leading by Example
Part of what makes these groups so successful is Reed’s leadership.
“I’ve led this group with zero tolerance of judgment or disparaging conversation,” said Reed, who emphasizes WEiC is a space where “women know they can feel comfortable asking for the help and connections they need.”
Reed reigns in negativity with the help of WEiC moderators Lelehnia Du Bois and Kendra Losee, who uphold the group’s posting guidelines.
Anna Marie Redinger, co-founder of the Lady Jane Society, and member of WEiC described Reed as a “true alchemist.” She works tirelessly to create better experiences for women. Most importantly, she listens.
As a leader on social media, “Everybody’s watching.” Reed said she’s definitely had her feet held over the fire — but she won’t be bullied, or let WEiC members be bullied, either.
“It is very hard to create an environment where that won’t happen, and the challenges will only grow as the community does,” she explained. She meets those challenges with reminders to be kind, and supportive.
Reed believes the level of support between women in the industry is unparalleled.
“Women have stepped up to help other women, they actually help when call goes out for help. I’ve never experienced that before,” she added. “That makes my life and work pleasurable in the hardest moments.
“The reward is that I get to be surrounding by incredible women who give me a purpose in continuing the life I have.”
10 Questions: Serge Chistov on the Future of Cannabis
In the ever-changing cannabis market, one issue the industry needs to address is becoming paramount: the environmental impact of legal cannabis. At a time when we are concerned about plastic waste and reducing our consumption of the material, we should be using our purchase power to support eco-friendly companies.
The Honest Marijuana Company utilizes all-natural cultivation methods to produce organic and eco-conscious cannabis products. The Colorado-based company packages their products in Earth-friendly recyclable tin cans with pure nitrogen, ensuring the cannabinoids and terpenes remain of the highest quality. The company also recently launched their new Honest Blunts, the first organic hemp-wrapped, machine-rolled cannabis blunts.
Serge Chistov is the financial partner of HMC. He talks to us about what he sees as the future of our ever-changing industry.
Cannabis Aficionado: What is the future of cannabis?
Branded products and repeatable consumer experience will be major industry focuses. The industry is maturing and American consumers now demand quality, innovation, ease of use..anything that has to do with buying your product from Amazon. More and more Americans would vote today for the federal legalization. There will be new products and the same rules will apply to cannabis as they would for other products.
I also think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play an important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products.
What trends are shaping cannabis in 2019?
I think bud smoking will stay with us but be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, like properly designed edibles and dissolving pills. Seniors and soccer moms will also become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Older people who were influenced by the stigma of cannabis are slowly but surely catching on. With soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and associating with the unknown element.
What technology will have the biggest impact on the cannabis industry?
There will be a new generation of edibles and topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that turns non-water-soluble substances like cannabinoids into nano-size so they can be added into transdermal patches, topical lotions, and more for the cleanest, most efficient, healthiest, and most discreet cannabis consumption. This would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. Products made with nanotechnology are effective, as you don’t need to consume a lot to get the desired effect. It is also healthy because they allow you to obtain medical benefits from cannabis without smoking and sacrificing your health in exchange.
Have we reached peak CBD?
No, I don’t believe so. I think that the hemp extract and some of the other cannabinoids will play a pretty important role in dietary supplements and the overall consumption will be greatly extended with the new generation of products. So no, I don’t think we have reached peak CBD.
Are vape pens going to replace bud smoking? Why or why not?
No, I don’t think they will. They will be an additional method of use. Some people I know who use vape pens are new users or they like the convenience. It is way easier to use a vape pen conspicuously in the public and while traveling. However, I think bud smoking will stay with us, as it is a traditional and long known way of consuming cannabis. It will be reduced by the innovations and new technologies that deliver cannabis, such as properly designed edibles, dissolving pills, oral dissolvable strips — things that will ‘skip the first pass’ of the human body will eventually take a bigger chunk out of the consumers who smoke bud and use vape pens.
How savvy are cannabis consumers when it comes to knowing the different strains?
They are not as savvy as we would want them to be, but they are definitely way savvier than they were five years ago. Consumers are still talking about their perceived values of different strains, without truly realizing that a majority of them are hybrids. There are no specifically unique indicas or sativas — there are indica or sativa-dominant hybrids because a lot of the cannabis genetics in the country are all mix-matched and there was no uniform approach to market them. So, yes, there is a long way to go as far as us educating the consumer. There is still a lot of work to be done.
What demographic do you see having the most growth? Hipsters? Oldsters? Soccer moms?
Seniors and soccer moms will become bigger consumer groups in the cannabis industry. Hipsters have been puffing away and the legalization is just another opportunity for them to experience new ways of consuming and new, improved technological advances. Older people who had a stigma are slowly but surely catching on with cannabis, with the societal changes that are changing that stigma. Baby boomers are a massive demographic. We would love or them to start participating in using cannabis. They are the largest demographic in the country! Obviously, with soccer moms, right now there is a big conversation about more delivery services in the industry, which may take away the stigma of going into the pot shop and being associated with the unknown element. As more and more of the industry develops and allows people to buy cannabis discreetly to use in the safety of their homes, I believe more and more of these demographics will be big participants.
What product is most likely show the most growth: Smokables? Edibles? Topicals?
There will be a new generation of edibles and a new generation of topicals. I’m talking about a nanotechnological approach that would allow for a smokeable-like effect without the smoking. I do believe that that will be huge.
What new challenges will the industry face going forward?
The challenges are the continued regulations, the unknown of the federal legalization, and that we are not in a competitive state. Americans are competitive people and now our hands are tied. Canadians are doing what they’re doing and have all the funding in the world. Compare our industry to the stock deals done out of Canada. Just think about it. They are coming across the border and are able to accumulate resources and opportunities on our land. All of this is strictly funded by privateers, by people with their savings and their reinvested earnings. This is an unfair competitive landscape and I hate the sound of it! We are the ones who are pioneering the industry in Colorado and California and it turns out to be like an old joke — pioneers get shot and settlers are the ones who are making money! It’s not good.”
Is the market going to be more for dispensaries or delivery?
I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two. I believe that there will be an online presence, where the consumer will be able to be educated just like it is right now with any other goods or service industry. Then there will be the consumer who would like to go and actually chat with people who are in the know and in the action, just like you would go and select your wines. In this instance, you go into the store that has a great selection of brands and you will find two or three bottles that you really like, but this does not mean that you would not on occasion order them online just for the convenience of your day to day life. I believe it will be a healthy combination of the two, and it’s for the better.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?
That is a good question! What I know now that I wish I knew when I was starting is that the changing regulations continue changing. I understand that the government is trying to find their footing, but because of this the manufacturers and logistical personnel need to continue changing the packaging and labeling and adjusting how we bring our product to the market. That would be helpful to know and I would have thought by now that the banking system would be more available to the cannabis industry as well, but that is still not happening. Other than that, our expectations were very limited, because starting in the industry was a freedom and an opportunity to finally do what we are passionate about and share that with the rest of the world.
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